Why Biden’s Stock Keeps Rising

Ridin' with Biden koozies

Biden for President koozies/Draft Biden 2016

Why Biden’s Stock Keeps Rising

| published Sept. 16, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor


At appearances at various locations this week, Vice-President Joe Biden—the most talked about non-candidate not officially running for President—attacked Donald Trump directly, Biden sounding a lot like a guy already campaigning for the top job in the White House.

Biden talked tough, chastising businessman and current Republican front-runner as an inciter of bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and saying that Trump’s bullying would pass from the scene soon enough—presumably in November of 2016. In his speeches this week, Biden also sounded very much like a man who wants to run for President.

Democratic watchers and political observers have been positively obsessed with Biden’s every move, word and gesture. Appearing on Stephen Colbert’s Late Night last week, Biden confessed that he was not sure if he had the emotional capital—considering the recent death of his son—to tackle the obviously mountainous task of campaigning for President. But after that videotaping at CBS, Biden quietly met with Robert Wolf, a Wall Street investor and analyst and former banker who, among other things, is one of the Democratic Party’s biggest fundraisers and donors.

This has sparked the most intense talk of a Biden candidacy yet since the chatter began early this year. It has also energized a Super PAC called Draft Biden 2016, which is now raising money, recruiting volunteers and staffers, securing endorsements, and organizing events in Iowa and New Hampshire. Draft Biden boasts it already has more than 200,000 signatures of people encouraging Biden to enter the race.

That Biden’s non-candidacy has seen such support and has drawn such grassroots interest—in tandem with the spectacular and surprising ascension of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who now leads the polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire—is in fact a direct reflection of the serious decline now facing Hillary Clinton, once the undisputed front-runner and the presumed party standard-bearer. In the wide wake of controversy surrounding her private email account, a privately-managed server, and a State Department employee she paid to quietly handle that server, Clinton has faced serious erosion in how voters judge her on the dual issues of accountability and honesty.

Though Clinton and her surrogates on the campaign trail have alternated between shifting blame to the Republicans (insisting that the fracas is a partisan attack), and offering dismissive responses to journalists that the brouhaha is little more than a media witch hunt, Clinton and her top campaign officials are largely to blame for the growing cancer on the body of her campaign. Recent attempts at image realignments and restructuring—scripted appearances in a church in Washington, attempts to smile and joke more while campaigning, and the unwelcome injection of Bill Clinton’s hand in the day-to-day operations of the campaign—give some Democrats reason to worry that 2016 will be a grisly replay of the divisive campaign of 2008. Worse, her evolving explanations of the server and email situation have reignited an ancient grudge between Clintonland and reporters, with Hillary Clinton’s thinly veiled disgust with the press beginning to give way to outright hostility.

Unwittingly perhaps, Clinton is feeding the strange but inevitable fever now sweeping through both the Republican and Democratic Party’s rank-and-file—that anti-Washington anti-establishment mood now teetering at the edge of a populist revolt. And like her campaign in 2008, Clinton has become the first victim of her own careful political engineering; she has spent the last 18 months crafting and shaping herself as the inevitable nominee and the de facto Democratic leader in the post-Obama age. In this task she succeeded spectacularly. Now, with anti-Washington sentiment at an all-time high, Clinton has neither the space nor the capacity to untie those cans now clattering behind her on the campaign trail.

Not only is Bernie Sanders syphoning support away from Clinton in two key early primary and caucus states, his online fundraising effort has been so successful as to make it a certainty that the Vermont Senator—a quasi-Socialist and progressive populist—will make it at least as far as Florida, if not further. Even Sanders admits to reporters that he is shocked at how many people show up at his campaign events. Meanwhile, in the space of less than three weeks, author and Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig—using little more than a crowdfunding campaign launched online—raised more than $1 million by Labor Day; chump change, perhaps, in an election cycle which may yet see $2 billion spent by November 2016, but a reality check that anti-establishment fervor is fueling what may be a sea change in how Democracy works.

Three Republican candidates combined—Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina—now constitute the lion’s share of support from Republican voters, the three non-politicians pulling in more than 55%. This anti-establishment mood has sent the GOP’s once shining top establishment guy, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, into the tank. Bush now hovers in single digits, clinging marginally to third or fourth place, depending on the polls.

Even those Republicans deemed “the future” of the party as recently as early this year—Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker—now struggle to remain relevant in the GOP conversation. This could once be fairly blamed on an insatiable media fixation with all things Trump, but it does nothing to explain the surges by the so-called quiet candidates, Carson and Fiorina among them. Trump’s bullying has had the odd effect of making New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seem like Atticus Finch, but—like the other fading candidates—it does nothing to explain why the always gregarious Christie, once a top-tier contender, is now hanging on for his political life in 11th place.

Biden’s almost continuous rise in the political consciousness may be a part of this anti-establishment process. Never mind that he has served in the U.S. Senate for longer than a third of registered Democrats have been alive—the sudden swell of support for a Biden candidacy reveals the Anybody-But-Clinton sentiment as a component of anti-Washington fever. Just as she did in 2008, Clinton has chosen to align herself with the “establishment,” whatever that is in peoples’ minds; and just as was the case in 2008, her decision has put her campaign at risk.

The fact that the Obama White House seems now uncannily lukewarm toward Clinton, and openly amorous of a Biden candidacy, reflects not only Obama’s desire to see his legacy protected by a loyalist like Biden, but also a sense that Clinton has once again chosen the wrong side of political history. In addition, old beefs between Obama’s people and Clinton’s people seem to have resurfaced, and it is no longer in President Obama’s self-interest—in his final year in office and his legacy in the balance—to side with the very people who were once so openly engaged in attempting to destroy him.

Some political historians and pundits have also pointed out that social media and the power and reach of the internet may have finally reached the tipping point, upending the time-honored system of big money donors and corporate servitude and high value bundlers. What was considered a radical scheme back in 2004 when Howard Dean launched the first political campaign reliant largely on the internet for traction is now a fundamental necessity. As a candidate in 2008 Obama raised more in a single month than anyone raised in any previous quarter. By 2012 the process had grown tenfold. The ability of small and medium-sized donors to fuel political campaigns in unfiltered ways—or to stop them dead in their tracks—is now visible for all to see. Rick Perry’s 2016 campaign died with a whimper last week, out of cash, out of fuel, even as Bernie Sanders continues to rake in tens of thousands each week.

Biden is an inadvertent and accidental beneficiary of the anti-traditional mood. Some political analysts now predict that his candidacy is inevitable, as the online campaign continues to grow exponentially and pressure builds. Even those quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts by Clinton staffers and top bundlers to put not-so-subtle pressure on non-aligned Democratic givers and volunteers—phone calls to those for whom word had leaked they might consider supporting Biden—only served to increase the value of Biden’s stock in direct relation to the way it tarnished the lumbering Clinton juggernaut. In Clintonland, this was predictable theater—an echo of the way heavy-hitter Clinton supporters in 2008 once offered overt threats toward anyone drawn toward the appeal of then-candidate Obama.

In short, Biden, the 36-year veteran of Washington, D.C. culture and thinking, and by dint of his seniority perhaps 3rd on the list of consummate Beltway insiders, nevertheless seems somehow fresh and new and even invigorating.

The Clinton campaign—now in Scene One of Act Two—will go into a predictable period of feverish restructuring. Make or break for Biden will be, assuming he enters the race officially this month, his appearance on the same debate stage with Clinton, Sanders, and the others. If Biden can make the case that he alone fills the bill—meaning he is neither the quasi-Socialist (meaning, politically-suicidal in a General Election) that Sanders is, and that he is the progressive center-left savior that Clinton is not—his stock may rise to the point that Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire will have a real choice. Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee, decent liberals that they no doubt are, register such low name-recognition among Democrats nationally (and among all voters) that it is not clear they will have any impact in those early states.

Biden’s remarkable ascension in the imagination make sense considering not only the complexity of feelings toward Clinton (were we ever really that enthusiastic about a rematch between a Clinton and a Bush?), but also the energy found in the anti-establishment, anti-traditional sentiment. Yes, that same sentiment that has catapulted Donald Trump to the top of the Republican polls, and placed Dr. Carson in a solid second place as Trump’s only real challenger.

Neither Jeb Bush nor Hillary Clinton was expecting this. And likewise neither was Joe Biden.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Biden Meeting With Wolf Raises Speculation; Thursday Review; September 14, 2015.

Clinton Server May Yield Deleted Emails; Thursday Review; September 13, 2015.